The most important part of a rabbit’s diet is good quality hay together with fresh grass. This is what they eat naturally, so it should make up the bulk of the diet and be offered all the time.
Feeding your Rabbit Hay and Grass
Hay and grass provide essential fibre that keeps the teeth and digestive system in good health and nibbling throughout the day will keep your rabbit occupied and prevent boredom. Hay racks or nets can minimise any mess formed. Good quality meadow hay should be sweet smelling and not dusty. A good idea is to try and obtain hay from a farm or feed merchant but check that wild rabbits have not had access to stored hay.
Always introduce a new food slow and steady over 14- 28 days.
Rabbits spend 16-18hrs/day eating in the wild, food should be provided to allow for the rabbit to exhibit normal behaviour.
Green, clean and dust free hay should be available at all times,
Hay should make up 70-80% of the daily diet
Most pellets include vitamins, minerals, prebiotics and antioxidants to supply the rabbit as a complementary food.
A muesli diet is not recommended as it promotes selective feeding. Rabbits are likely to eat the sugary components of the diet and leave the high fibre components which can lead to obesity, gut stasis and dental wear issues.
Feed 5-6 times a day.
carrot tops (rich in fibrous material, promotes gut movement)
leafy portions of cauliflower (high in fibre)
spring greens (high in vitamin C)
kale (rich in vitamin C)
peas (including leaves and pods)
Feed 5-6 times a day.
Plants and wild flowers
stinging nettle (source of protein)
yarrow (high in fibre)
coltsfoot (high in fibre, respiratory support)
chamomile (calming properties)
blackberry leaves and stems
lemon balm (calming properties)
high in sugar; 2 tablespoons worth a day.
apple (remove skin, stem and pips)
What are caecotrophs?
Good bacteria in the caecum ferment the fibre, which then emerges in the form of clumps of sticky droppings called caecotrophs. Rabbits then re-eat the caecotrophs directly from their bottoms and their systems extract essential nutrition as the digestible fibre passes through the stomach and intestines for the second time. Rabbits will eat the caecotrophs directly as they pass from the body, generally at quite times of the day/ night, so in a healthy rabbit caecotrophs should never be seen. Finding caecotrophs in the hutch or stuck to your rabbit can be a sign of poor gut health, and you should seek advice from your vet
Dry Food Dangers for Rabbits
Overfeeding dry foods to adult rabbits is a common cause of diseases such as obesity, heart and liver problems, chronic diarrhoea, dental and kidney disease. Water should be available 24hrs a day and water bottles or bowls should be cleaned daily to prevent the build-up of bacteria and contamination.
Feeding Treats to Rabbits
Do not feed your rabbit chocolate, biscuits or other sugary treats like honey sticks, bread, or fatty, salty foods like potato crisps. Be careful with feeding treats generally as they can lead to obesity and digestive upsets. Treats your rabbit may like include strawberries, pineapple chunks, apples, pears, melon slices, banana slices, raspberries, peaches and dried fruits.
For good tooth wear you may provide your rabbit with twigs or tree branches and he or she will enjoy gnawing and stripping the bark.
A general rule is that you can offer branches from any tree that we eat the fruit from such as apple, pear or plum but do make sure that the tree has not been sprayed with chemicals.
Wild rabbits are very active foraging, playing breeding, and fleeing from predators but on the other hand the average pet rabbit is neutered, given treats, there is no predators and they don’t run very far! The result? A fat rabbit.
Excess weight puts a strain on the cardiovascular system and worsens arthritis. Fat rabbits are also unable to groom themselves or reach their bottoms to re-ingest caecal pellets. Resulting in a dirty bottom and the danger of Fly strike.
Most overweight rabbits are being fed far too much concentrated food pellets and a neutered, healthy, adult rabbit only needs about 1 tablespoon per Kg of bodyweight per day of concentrated food.
It can be quite difficult to tell if you rabbit is overweight, some of the obvious signs may be:
- Not grooming
- Dirty bum
- Male rabbit with a huge dewlap or female with a huge dewlap.
Overweight rabbits need a weight loss programme designed for them and it is important that this is done carefully. If you are all-unsure or just want advise on what to feed please book an appointment with a nurse, which is free to healthy pet club animals. At the vets we use a body condition score to assess your rabbits weight and the ideal score is 3.
Encourage your rabbits to exercise
Scatter your rabbit’s food and greens so that they have to forage. Purchase a dog treat ball, and place their daily concentrated ration in there. This will provide a little mental stimulation and well as exercise. Allow them greater access to exercise and make the exercise area fun.
Once your rabbit has reached their targeted weight they will be healthier happier and fitter.